GOAL! | Will the Hurricanes’ special teams give them cause to celebrate?
A hockey game can be divided into two types of action: 5-on-5 play, where both teams are at full strength with five skaters and a goalie on the ice; and special teams, where one or more players from one team are off the ice in the penalty box.
The Carolina Hurricanes, who won the Stanley Cup in 2005-06, had their problems with both types of play last season. At full strength, the Canes ranked 21st out of 30 teams in goals-for vs. goals-against ratio – scoring .86 goals for every goal allowed. None one of the teams ranked in the bottom third of the league in that statistic made the playoffs.
The problem for Carolina was that the team’s special teams play wasn’t much better. With Frantisek Kaberle and Cory Stillman hurt for much of the season, and Matt Cullen playing for the New York Rangers, the team’s power play struggled. The man-advantage conversion rate was just 15 percent, 25th in the league.
Although the team’s penalty-killing was solid – succesful 84.6 percent of the time, 7th-best in the NHL – it wasn’t enough to lift Carolina into the post-season.
This season, with Kaberle (a puck-moving defenseman who can quarterback the power-play) and Stillman (a playmaking winger) healthy, and with Cullen (a centerman who scored eight power-play goals during the Cup season) back in the fold from New York, Carolina’s special-teams outlook is decidedly better for 2007-08. A full, healthy lineup and the fact that the power play has gotten special attention during the pre-season is cause for optimism; Carolina’s penalty-killing, consistently among the top-third in the league the last few years, should be solid again – if nothing else – because of Cam Ward’s off-season conditioning program, which has made him quicker.
Coming up: Season Preview, Part 5: The Forecast